The 2021 FBI Hate Crime Statistics Failed to Capture the Reality of Anti-Asian Hate. Here’s why.
By Louise Liu
Last week, the FBI released their 2021 hate crime data and indicated the lowest number of hate crimes in years, but the results are undercut by the failure of a significant number of local law enforcement agencies to report their data.
2021 marks the first year the FBI requested all agencies to report crime, including hate crimes, through its National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). However, in the transition to NIBRS, several major jurisdictions failed to submit their reports by the deadline, including New York, Chicago, Phoenix, and almost the entirety of California and Florida. Of the 18,812 law enforcement agencies, almost a third did not report — resulting in 3,300 fewer organizations reporting than in 2020. The results? Substantial gaps in data and what appear to be the lowest counts of hate crimes in years.
While the number of reported anti-Asian hate crimes between 2020 and 2021 has increased from 279 to 305, the real figure is likely to be much higher. Not only do this year’s FBI hate crime data dramatically undercalculate the number of hate-motivated attacks, but hate crime data have always been plagued by underreporting. More than half of all racial groups say they are uncomfortable reporting hate crimes to law enforcement, with Asian Americans being the least comfortable: only 30% of Asian Americans say they would be comfortable reporting to law enforcement. Between Asian Americans’ hesitance to report hate crimes and a significant lack of agency reporting, the FBI’s 2021 data present a woefully incomplete picture of the reality of anti-Asian hate, even more so than in years past.
Alternative reporting methods, such as community-based reporting sites, have filled in the gaps. Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks incidents of hate and discrimination experienced by Asian Americans, has recorded 6,273 instances of hate in 2021 alone. Our hate-tracking tool, Stand Against Hatred, has received detailed reports from those being targeted due to their actual or perceived Asian identity, documenting experiences of verbal abuse, shunning, workplace discrimination, physical attacks, and being blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it should be noted that these community-based reporting sites do not differentiate between hate crimes and hate incidents. Unlike hate crimes, hate incidents are instances of harassment that do not involve physical violence, threat, or destruction of property, and generally are not considered crimes — though they can still be traumatic and have lasting mental health effects.
Should we dismiss the FBI hate crime data entirely?
No. While 2021’s data are too unreliable to compare with previous years’ data, the 2021 data still reflect general trends in hate crimes. Even these incomplete data demonstrate that hate crimes against the Black community are still most prevalent, and there has been an increase in recorded hate crimes against the Asian, Sikh, and LGBTQ+ communities.
Comprehensive data are an essential part of understanding, responding to, and preventing hate crimes, and we urge the Justice Department and the FBI to make greater efforts to swiftly and effectively complete the transition to NIBRS, which we will believe will yield more accurate data in time. Meanwhile, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC will continue to advocate for improved reporting and data collection, even as we — along with others in our community — continue to call for culturally responsive education and community-driven solutions as part of a more comprehensive and effective response to address anti-Asian hate.
Despite the dramatic underreporting of hate crimes in 2021, we know that anti-Asian hate continues to impact our communities at alarming rates. For those who feel uncomfortable reporting to law enforcement agencies, we encourage you to report to our online hate incident reporting tool Stand Against Hatred. You can report anonymously, and we will keep your information confidential. Your reports give Advancing Justice | AAJC the information we need to advocate for policies that address anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents.
Update 3/23/23: On March 12, 2023, the FBI released additional data to supplement their 2021 hate crimes report, accounting for an additional 3,205 agency reports. Hate crimes numbered over 10,000, the highest figure yet, with racially-motivated hate crimes rising across all racial groups and with anti-Asian bias being named as a motive for an additional 168% of crimes compared to 2020.
Even with the supplemental data, hate crime data collected by law enforcement agencies cannot account for language and cultural barriers to reporting, and cannot provide a complete picture of anti-Asian hate. We must continue to invest in culturally sensitive education and community-driven solutions as a means of addressing and combatting anti-Asian hate at its roots.
Louise Liu is the Anti-Hate Communications Coordinator at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice — AAJC has a mission to advance the civil and human rights of Asian Americans and to build and promote a fair and equitable society for all. Visit our website at advancingjustice-aajc.org.